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Tulane Student Finds a School, and Home, at NJIT

Just days after Hurricane Katrina deluged the Gulf Coast, Robert A. Altenkirch, PhD, president of New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT), invited students whose colleges were damaged by the hurricane to enroll at NJIT. He even extended the students a special status, making it easy for them to transfer NJIT credits to their colleges when they return.   

Now, NJIT has its first student from New Orleans: Sean Kirkland, who would have been a senior at Tulane University, is enrolled at NJIT’s New Jersey School of Architecture (NJSOA).

Kirkland, 19, who is taking a fourth-year architectural studio class, is happy to be at NJIT. 

“Everyone at NJIT has been extremely kind and welcoming and I’m really grateful to be studying here,” Kirkland said, while taking a break from his studio class. 

How did Kirkland, of River Ridge, La., just outside of New Orleans, wind up at NJIT? 

Kirkland had interned this summer at WESKetch Architecture, a multi-discipline architecture firm in Millington. The principal and owner of the firm, William E.S.Kaufman, is a graduate of NJSOA and a member of the Dean’s Council, a group of successful architects who support the school. He has employed dozens of NJIT graduates over the past ten years. Another NJSOA graduate working at WESKetch, Kevin Edwards, is an adjunct faculty member at NJSOA and works in the school’s modeling shop. When Edwards heard that Tulane University would not open this semester, he called Kirkland, who had fled his home in River Ridge, La., and was staying in Shreveport. La.

“Sean is a great kid and he did great job interning for us this summer,” said Edwards. “Sean left our firm to return to Tulane on a Wednesday and the hurricane hit a few days later so he was fresh in our minds and we frantically tried to get in touch with him to see if we can help him.” 

Edwards did reach Kirkland, and helped him immensely. Edwards asked Kirkland if he’d like to return to WESKetch Architecture and do another internship: Tulane requires its architecture students to do two internships. Edwards also invited Kirkland to stay with him and his wife in their home in West Caldwell. He also arranged for Kirkland to take a studio class at NJSOA. This way, Kirkland would fulfill the requirement for a second internship, continue his studies at NJSOA and have a place to stay until Tulane reopens for the spring semester. 

“It was amazing of Kevin to invite me back to intern at the firm again and to stay with him and his family,” Kirkland said. “He treats me like family.” 

And his studio class at NJSOA is going well. 

“Studio is great,” Kirkland said. “It’s very different from Tulane, where we design buildings while doing hand sketches and drawing. Here, they start using computer-aided design right away, and we are designing different things, such as chessboards. My experience with WESKetch last summer was primarily working in advanced parametric modeling software for multi-family housing projects. So studying at NJSOA is a good change and being here will make me a more balanced architect and designer.”

James Dyer, associate dean at NJSOA, is happy to have Kirkland at the school. 

“We all need to do our best in this time of tragedy, especially when it comes to assisting students who are seeking to better themselves,” said Dyer. “We’re happy to have Sean join us, and are pleased we could offer him a spot in the architecture school.”